Saturday night's concert was the one that the Menlo festival's publicity manager urged me to attend, because of how well the previous night's performance of the same program had gone. I'm glad I did. The Calidore Quartet simply burned their initials into Tchaikovsky's First Quartet. Let me try to tell you what happened.
The idea was to trace Tchaikovsky's heritage from Mozart, his favorite composer, by juxtaposing works by the two of them with those of two intermediate composers also inspired by Mozart: Mendelssohn and Glinka.
The Mozart set a high bar, as it was his K. 593 Quintet in D. As a quintet with an extra viola, it's darker and weightier than most quartets, and it's very late Mozart with considerable profundity. It was played well by an assortment of Menlo faculty all of whom I'd heard earlier this year.
The Calidore Quartet made their first appearance before my ears with Mendelssohn's Op. 44 No. 1. I generally find the Op. 44 quartets less weighty or significant than the earlier or later quartets (especially Op. 13, my favorite of the Mendelssohns), but this is a good rendition, sober and significant without dragging it down.
The Glinka was the odd bit out of the evening. Yes, it's a set of variations on a Mozart theme, so that's appropriate, but it's the only work on the program for piano instead of strings, it's the only one not in D Major, and to my ears it carries not a whiff of Glinka's other significance in a Tchaikovsky context, his voice as the founder of Russian nationalist music. This piece sounds more like Chopin or, as the program note suggests, John Field.
Then the Calidores came back out to do Tchaikovsky's First Quartet, a piece famous for its melodic Andante cantabile, and mildly infamous for its chattery finale. It runs the risk of being wet and soggy. It was anything but that here. The players kept a firm dry control over all the lyricism, so that the Andante, and anything else beautiful in the music, had the kind of heft to its beauty that you expect of Mozart. An understanding of the structure of the finale, of why everything was there, kept it from sounding mindlessly repetitious. And best of all were the four-part chordal passages in the first movement and scherzo. This performance sold this music effectively. I was enchanted.
In the afternoon, the festival's young performers, ages 11-18, gave their first weekly recital, the 30 of them grouped up to perform single movements. This time there were two movements from Brahms' Piano Quintet, one of my favorites. The ones who, they said in introducing the piece, had been told by their coach that they should remember that Brahms was big and heavy-set and play it that way were the more successful. There were two movements by this year's lost-discovery composer, Arensky. Another highlight was the four-hand version of part of The Rite of Spring, enthusiastically hammered out with more violence than the professionals had brought to it last week.